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In violation of EPA regualtions: City’s raw water supply shows increased level of fecal coliforms

Daily News Staff Writer

At Thursday night's Ketchikan City Council Meeting, City Manager Karl Amylon said the city's raw water supply is in violation of EPA regulations because of elevated fecal coliforms.

Mayor Bob Sivertsen clarified that the public drinking water is still safe to drink and the violations have to do with the quality of water before treatment.

The City Council passed a resolution 6-1 to enter into services with an engineering firm at $425,000 to negotiate a way forward.

Amylon said he wouldn't be surprised if the city receives a formal notice of violation. He said previous engineering firms have estimated the cost of a pre-treatment water filtration system at $70 million.

Water Division Manager John Kleinegger said that Ketchikan is one of the few cities in the United States that doesn't have a pre-treatment filtration system.

Amylon estimates it will take a couple years of more water testing to figure out what the violations might be, what is expected of the city in terms of a remedy and how to fund it.

"If this is the course we’re on, we’re looking at a sizeable expenditure in the next five years," said Amylon.

In addition, Amylon estimated it would cost a couple million dollars annually to operate the filtration system once complete.

Council Member Lew Williams III and Sivertsen suggested the city explore grant options and make the community's state and federal representatives aware.

Council Member Judy Zenge suggested not just having consultants, but discussing the water quality issue with other Southeast Alaska communities, as well.

Council Member Sam Bergeron was against doing anything drastic right away.

"Why are we falling over backward for an unfunded mandate from the federal government," Bergeron asked. "I’m voting no."

Kleinegger said the city still has water testing in November, when it could improve its six-month water quality average, but wasn't optimistic that at least one of those tests wouldn't fail.

Sivertsen asked Kleinegger how much the drought and mountain goats played into the elevated levels of fecal coliform.

Kleinegger said a recent survey of goats in the area showed about 229 goats. He also pointed to the gradual environmental warming, that has led to increased water temperatures.

"Fecal can survive for a couple weeks,” Kleinegger said. “As the water becomes warmer, it can probably survive longer."

Council Member Dick Coose agreed with Bergeron, saying that the water was coming off of federal land, and that the federal government has a responsibility to provide clean water.

Coose added that expenses from filtration installation could more than double residents’ water bill.

Bergeron remained determined not to spend money prematurely. "Is someone going to come and shut off our water?" he asked. "We have such a small utility. That’s such a huge requirement. I think we should not do it."

In other business, the City Council removed two items from the consent agenda that would have given non-represented government employees and non-represented Ketchikan Public Utilities' employees a 2% cost of living adjustment.

The increase has routinely mimicked the increases represented employees bargained for. According to the agenda materials, City Manager Karl Amylon said the council had historically approved the COLA.

Coose initiated the deferment of the two items by questioning why those earning more will get more money in the cost of living increase.

“It costs the little guy just as much for eggs and bacon and oil, just as much as it does that guy at the top,” said Coose.

He said the money should be in a pot and everyone should get an equal amount, not a percentage. He added he wouldn’t approve the motions until the process of distributing the cost of living increase was addressed.

Bergeron supported Coose’s position and both Council members Janalee Gage and Zenge had further questions regarding the process.

The council voted to defer the motions, 7-1, with council member Lew Williams III voting no.

Representatives from PeaceHealth, which operates the Ketchikan Medical Center, spoke about the improvements and increased transparency of their billing process.

Sivertsen said he doesn't get nearly the number of billing complaints that he has in the past.

The council pushed ahead with selling the 319 Main St. The council voted 6-1 to remove the minimum bid on the former fire house, to establish a sealed bidding process and to accept the highest bid.

“We’ve been playing this game for a year now, and I have no idea what it’s cost us,” said Coose. He estimated between maintenance, heating, fuel and loss of potential taxes upwards of $70,000.

“If we play the game another year, it’s another 70K,” Coose said.

Earlier this week the city was solicited by an online email bid to buy the building outright for $150,000 by the gentlemen interested in utilizing it for a brewery.

Coose wanted to see four hands to accept the offer and get rid of the building. However, City Attorney Mitch Seaver said an ordinance would need to be adopted to sell the building for less than the appraisal.

Bergeron said that because a relative of the mayor is involved, the process needs to be public and have a lot of “sunshine” on it. He suggested listing it with a realtor.

Council Member Mark Flora said, “take the minimum off, we don’t need a realtor.” He proposed the motion that the council passed.

The council passed another motion that would initiate a renegotiation of an agreement between the city and Ketchikan Gateway Borough concerning emergency dispatch. The borough currently pays about $15,000 a year for the city to handle and dispatch all incoming emergency calls. The entire system costs about $1.3 million to run annually, according to Amylon.

He said this last year alone the city spent $700,000 on capital improvements. Amylon said the $15,000 equates to about 1% of operating costs for the dispatch service.

Based on 2018 population estimates, the population in the entire borough is city 56.7%, non-city 43.3%.

“The 1% contribution does seem to be out of balance,” said Amylon.

Amylon, echoing conversations with Ketchikan Police Department Joe White and City of Ketchikan Fire Department Chief Abner Hoage, agreed that there should be a more equitable distribution of the cost.

 When Coose asked for numbers on the amount of calls that come from the city and that come from outside of the city, Amylon said that calls from the city far surpass calls from outside the city.

"Whether you get one call or a thousand calls," said Amylon, "we’re going to endure the cost of manning 24/7, 365."

Amylon said the cost to man and equip the dispatch service is a fix cost. He said there's a liability involved in providing these services, and 1% of the cost, it's not worth it.

The motion to begin neotiations with the borough over a new agreement was passed unanimously.

Later in the meeting, the council voted 4-3 to approve an official city response to comments received from the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the Ward Cove Dock Group’s effort to obtain permits for a two-dock project. Zenge, Flora and Gage voted no.

According to Flora, the Corps said the economic concerns of the city were a secondary issue. Zenge agreed with Flora, saying the city should get back to its own business.

Williams, on the other hand was still concern about the transportation of potential cruise ship passengers between Ward Cove and the city.

Sivertsen was optimistic that the other agencies (the EPA, ADEC, etc.) involved would be able to deal with potential issues from the Ward Cove project on their own. He suggested setting up a date so the council could speak with John Binkley, one of the partners in the Ward Cove group.